During the 1960's, a US cigarette brand used a marketing strategy targeting women with the slogan “You've come a long way baby," calling attention to the great progress the US women's movement had achieved.
The same could be said of the US labor movement. By the 1960's, US labor unions represented approximately 1/3 of all US workers. But, by 2016, US union membership decreased to less than 10% of private sector workers. Many suggest that the decline in US union membership occurred because US employers came a long way since the 1960s, by demonstrating their sincere appreciation for the work and dedication of US employees, and developing more generous, employee-friendly benefits, opportunities and policies. In addition, US law came a long way, by requiring or permitting rights and benefits for all US employees that had been available only pursuant to labor agreements between employers and unions.
During a recent program sponsored by leading Israeli law firm Meitar and global law firm powerhouse DLA Piper, a similar decline in Israeli union membership was noted. Union membership in Israel started during the 1920’s, even before the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and by the 1960’s unions represented approximately 4/5 of all Israeli workers. However, as of the 1980’s there has been a gradual decline in Israeli union membership, so that by the beginning of the 21st century only about 1/3 of Israeli workers were unionized.
The difference between the US and Israel experience is that whereas, the decline in US union membership can be attributed to the shift in US employers’ perception of the relations with their employees, the decline in Israeli union membership is mostly attributed to external factors, including the separation between union membership and availability of health insurance, as well as the significant growth of the private sector in Israel (by way of privatization) which is traditionally non-unionized.
However, the response of Israeli and US labor unions has diverged. In Israel, unions have stepped-up traditional organizing efforts during recent years, even in non-traditional industries including high-tech and accounting. The recent increased Israeli interest in union membership in high-tech and accounting may be attributable to factors other than wages and benefits, noting generous wages and benefits in the high-tech sector. Also, it is unclear whether the interest is driven by employees or the unions interested in representing them. By comparison, some US labor unions have pursued alternatives to traditional organizing, because many US employers have rendered union organizing efforts challenging through the employers’ generous, progressive approach to employee relations. Interestingly, the decline in union interest among US workers may be an unintended (yet welcome) consequence, of the employers’ generous, progressive approaches. Israeli employers may find the US experience instructive.
As we note above, many US employers made a seismic shift by modernizing the workplace culture, recognizing the value of skilled, loyal employees, and the advantages achieved when the employer develops meaningful, appropriate workplace relationships with employees, and related policies. Forward-thinking, progressive US employers understand that a positive workplace environment, incorporating fair and appropriate compensation and benefits, promises of fair treatment, “open-door” policies, complaint or grievance procedures, promotional and training opportunities, and the availability of internal review and reconsideration of employer decisions, facilitates productivity, efficiency and innovation, and decreases litigation, contention and interest in unions.
Also, US employers have the right of free speech subject to prohibitions against threats, coercion, promises and intimidation, while in Israel any employer communication regarding unionization may be unlawful. US law recognizes the value of a balanced discussion, where unions may claim benefits of union-representation, and employers may provide facts, opinions and examples to the contrary. This dynamic, free-flowing exchange provides employees with a more accurate understanding of the pros and cons of unionization, compared with the one-sided Israeli approach.
In addition, US law permits pre-recognition negotiation of "framework" agreements by employers and unions. A framework agreement is described as something less than a complete collective bargaining agreement. Such pre-recognition bargaining allows an employer to consider voluntary recognition, which may facilitate labor-management cooperation, and decrease contention. And, in the event that the employer has developed a positive culture with strong employee loyalty, the employer may have the leverage to achieve a favorable framework agreement.
The Israeli approach towards unionization, as evident in Israeli labor courts’ case law from recent years, does not allow such positive, balanced pre-recognition discussion, as in the US. This may result in the involvement of labor unions in the workplace, even when the union’s own interests do not match those of the employees.
Having said that, Israeli employers are still able to adopt the US approach by building a positive workplace environment and implementing progressive workplace practices upfront, before unionization is ever discussed, thus hopefully reaching the best possible outcome for both employees and employers.
US and Israeli employers have much to learn from one another. The US may consider the effect of one-sided union solicitations found in Israel; Israel may consider changes in the law to facilitate discussion, debate and the free flow of information. US and Israeli employees have the right to accept or reject union representation, without reprisal or retaliation. However, Israeli employees may make the decision in a vacuum, while US employees may make that decision following spirited debate. Similarly, US law permits pre-recognition negotiation of framework agreements, while Israeli law does not. Pre-recognition negotiation may facilitate union interest and conclusions favorable to all.
The success of the current progressive approach of many US employers may provide valuable insight in the development of a positive workplace environment that facilitates employer/employee cooperation and workplace efficiency, and diminishes divisive, unproductive workplace distractions.
FOR YOUR CONSIDERATION:
Progressive Workplace Practices Offer market-standard or better wages and benefits Offer innovative benefits that employees want Comply with all laws Provide employees with “job security” by adopting policies providing for fair, equitable, appropriate treatment, and advance-notification of the implementation of workplace rules Develop a process pursuant to which employees may challenge workplace decisions they believe are unfair, inequitable or inconsistent with previously-announced rules, affirm and explain decisions management stands by, and reverse or modify if otherwise Solicit employees’ complaints and concerns, be open-minded and responsive, and assure no retaliation Offer training programs and when appropriate, promote from within
About the authors: Adv. Harriet Lipkin, Employment and Labor Partner, DLA Piper; Adv. Rami Landa, Head of Labor and Employment Goup, Meitar Liquornik Geva Leshem Tal
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on May 26, 2016
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